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Sima Samar: human rights defender in Afghanistan
an article by The Right Livelihood Award (abridged)

Sima Samar of Afghanistan received the Right Livelihood Award for 2012"...for her longstanding and courageous dedication to human rights, especially the rights of women, in one of the most complex and dangerous regions in the world."


Samar at a girl's school run by Shuhada Organization, Daikundi province, 2003

click on photo to enlarge

Sima Samar is a doctor for the poor, an educator of the marginalised and defender of the human rights of all in Afghanistan. She has established and nurtured the Shuhada Organization that, in 2012, operated more than one hundred schools and 15 clinics and hospitals dedicated to providing education and healthcare, particularly focusing on women and girls. She served in the Interim Administration of Afghanistan and established the first-ever Ministry of Women's Affairs. Since 2004, she has chaired the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission that holds human rights violators accountable, a commitment that has put her own life at great risk.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) was set up in 2002 and constitutionalised in 2004. Samar was appointed its first chairperson. Since its inception, the AIHRC has reported on pressing challenges including issues of civilian casualties, the realisation of economic and social rights and the status of women. One of the most important reports that the AIHRC has published is 'Call for Justice' which examines past human rights crimes and abuses in Afghanistan. AIHRC's focus has been to strengthen the rule of law and end a culture of impunity. Because of her relentless calls for accountability for human rights violations of the past and the present, Samar is an anathema to many of the human rights violators who hold office in Afghanistan today. Having received several death threats as a result of persevering in her work, Samar is today always accompanied by bodyguards in Afghanistan. From 2005-2009 Samar also served as the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights for Sudan.

Fervently believing that education is the key to socio-economic development and sustaining civil society in countries like Afghanistan, Samar recently established the non-profit Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GSIHE). The Institute initially offers training in the fields of political science, political sociology, economic planning and leadership and administration in education. It aims to provide greater opportunities for women, poor and marginalised students through tuition subsidies and scholarships. Various aspects of Samar's work have been recognised over the years by a number of international awards, including the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and the 2004 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. Additionally, she was conferred with a Doctor of Humane Letters (hon.) by Brown University in May 2005.

[Note: Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.]

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This report was posted on October 27, 2013.